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African prize for engineering innovation : Kenyan laureate

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African prize for engineering innovation : Kenyan laureate

Esther Kimani is the third woman and the second Kenyan innovator to win the Africa Prize, which awards 60,000 USD. Her tool reduces crop losses for small farmers by up to 30 % while increasing yields by up to 40 %.

African prize : One of the most prestigious distinctions

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation has supported nearly 150 entrepreneurs in 23 African countries, generating over 28,000 jobs and benefiting more than 10 million people through innovative products and services. Esther Kimani, from Kenya, received the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation from the Royal Academy of Engineering. This prize, recognized as Africa’s most prestigious engineering award, was presented in Nairobi on June 13, 2024.

Kimani’s pioneering AI-based crop pest and disease detection tool won this award for its revolutionary impact on the agricultural sector, especially for small-scale farmers in Kenya.

AI tool to help farmers

Kimani’s innovation addresses a crucial challenge faced by about five million small-scale farmers in Kenya, who collectively lose around 33 % of their crops each year due to pests and diseases.

Her AI tool uses advanced computer vision algorithms and machine learning to identify pests, pathogens, and diseases in real time. When an infestation is detected, the tool sends an alert to the farmer via SMS, suggesting appropriate interventions to mitigate the problem. Additionally, the device informs government agricultural agents, enabling a coordinated response to pest and disease outbreaks. This feature supports broader agricultural management efforts and ensures timely and effective interventions.

Affordable and accessible innovation

One of the most notable features of Kimani’s tool is its affordability. The solar-powered device is rented to farmers for just 3 USD per month, making advanced pest and disease detection accessible even to the smallest farms. By offering a scalable solution, Kimani’s innovation is poised to transform agricultural practices in Kenya and potentially other regions of Africa.

Celebrating a decade of innovation in Africa

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, established by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014, aims to support innovators in the development of sustainable and scalable engineering solutions to local challenges in Africa.

To mark its 10th anniversary, the Royal Academy of Engineering organized a reunion of Africa Prize alumni. This event brought together 100 past participants for a three-day program celebrating their achievements and fostering collaboration. The grand finale saw the four finalists, including Kimani, present their innovations to an audience of 700 people, showcasing the talent and ingenuity available on the continent.

Winning innovation and its impact

Kimani’s AI pest detection tool stands out among the finalists for its potential to revolutionize agricultural practices. Reflecting on her journey, she says, « My parents lost up to 40% of their crops each agricultural season, which affected our living standards. We are empowering small-scale farmers, many of whom are women, to increase their incomes. We aim to reach one million farmers in the next five years ».

The prize includes a financial award of 60,000 USD, the highest amount ever granted to a laureate in honor of the prize’s 10th anniversary. This funding will support the development and scaling of the device, bringing its benefits to a wider audience.

Other engineering innovations highlighted

The three other finalists, each awarded 19,000 USD, presented equally impressive innovations.

  • Kevin Maina from Kenya developed Eco Tiles, an eco-friendly roofing material made from recycled plastic. This innovation addresses plastic pollution and high construction costs.
  • Rory Assendey from Côte d’Ivoire introduced La Ruche Health, a digital health platform that connects communities to vital health services via an AI chatbot on WhatsApp and mobile apps.
  • Martin Tumusiime from Uganda presented Yo-Waste, a mobile app that connects households and businesses to independent waste collection agents.

Additionally, a special « One to Watch » award was given to Dr. Abubakari Zarouk Imoro for his innovation, Myco-Substitutes, which has had a significant impact on local communities. This award, voted by the public both live and online, comes with a 6,000 USD prize.

Africa prize for engineering innovation 2025 : Applications open

The Africa Prize 2025 for Engineering Innovation is now open for applications. It aims to stimulate the creativity of individuals and startups in sub-Saharan Africa to propose scalable engineering solutions that address local challenges. The application deadline for next year is October 15, 2024. This annual prize continues to present a unique opportunity to support Africa’s brightest minds in solving global challenges and promoting sustainable development through engineering.

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